Sean O’Brien tips in a last second shot to push the Salukis to an overtime victory over Murray State, 89-85, Tuesday night in Carbondale.
The Salukis (4-3) never trailed the Racers (3-4) for the final 20 minutes of the game, but that didn’t stop Murray State from fighting until the last moments.
SIU was up 77-74 with five seconds to go in the fourth quarter, when a defensive breakdown from Mike Rodriguez, lead to Bryce Jones of Murray State nailing a buzzer beating three pointer to send the game to OT.
The Salukis came out of the huddle at the start of overtime with a fire in their eyes. They were reliving the same scenario in last seasons loss to Evansville, a game that seemed to shake the Salukis, tarnishing their season.
“Last year when they (Evansville) hit that same shot we immediately put our heads down,” Senior point guard Mike Rodriguez said after the game. “This time we didn’t say anything about it, we just wanted to have a different mindset.”
Head Coach Barry Hinson was looking for his seniors to step up, and they did exactly that.
Leo Vincent nailed a three pointer in the beginning seconds of overtime, after going only 1-6 from downtown in regulation. Rodriguez stole the ball on the next possession and fed it to O’Brien for the transition layup and an early five-point overtime lead.
“(Mike Rodriguez) wants the ball in his hands at crunch time. Leo Vincent wants the ball in his hands at crunch time,” Hinson said. “Sean O’Brien — crunch time — made a big play. Our three seniors made big plays tonight.”
The Racers weren’t out of gas yet, scoring four quick points and narrowing the Salukis lead to one. After both teams were battling possession after possession, the game was tied at 85 with 1:06 to go.
That’s when the SIU Arena witnessed one of Sean O’Brien’s most clutch moments in his Saluki Career. Rodriguez drove the ball down the right baseline, put up a jumper, no good and O’Brien was there to caress it in off the rim for the go-ahead basket.
“I had to wait a second to make sure it cleared the cylinder,” O’Brien said after the game. “As soon as it rolled out I was right there to put it in.”
The Salukis game plan was to fill the inside, making Murray St take outside shot. This almost backfired on the Salukis when the Racers came out hot, hitting 9 three pointers in the first half, taking an early 16-7 advantage.
The Salukis weren’t phased by the hot start though and stuck to coach Hinson’s plan. They notched down the Racers lead with inside points, outscoring the Racers in the paint 42-14.
The win gives the Salukis their first positive record of the year. After losing their first two games, SIU has gone 3-1 since, and their confidence is at an all-time high with conference looming soon.
For full stats visit: http://siusalukis.com/boxscore.aspx?path=mbball&id=7622